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SLABS 

OF THE 

SUNBURNT 
WEST 



CARL SANDBURG 



eo^^ 



^-^ 



Digitized by tlie Internet Arcliive 

in 2011 witli funding from 

The Institute of IVIuseum and Library Services through an Indiana State Library LSTA Grant 



http://www.archive.org/details/slabsofsunburntwOOsand 



SLABS OF THE 
SUNBURNT WEST 



BY 

CARL SANDBURG 

AUTHOR OF "SMOKE AND STEEL," "CHICAGO POEMS," 
" CORNHUSKER3 " 




NEW YORK 

HARCOURT, BRACE AND COMPANY 



COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY 
HARCOURT, BRACE AND COMPANY, INC. 



PRINTED IN THE U. S. A. BY 

THE QUINN Si BODEN COMPANY 

RAHWAY, N. J 



TO 
HELGA 



Acknowledgments are due to the editors of Poetry 
(Chicago), The New Republic, The Bookman, The Cen- 
tury, Harper's Monthly, The Measure, The Dial, Vanity 
Fair, The Nation, The Liberator, The Freeman, in whose 
pages some of the writings herein have appeared. 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

The Windy City 3 

Washington Monument by Night . . . 18 

And So To-day 20 

Black Horizons 28 

Sea Slant 29 

Upstream 30 

Four Steichen Prints 31 

Fins 32 

Beat, Old Heart -33 

Moon Riders 34 

At the Gates of Tombs 37 

Hazardous Occupations 39 

Props 40 

Gypsy Mother 41 

Gold Mud 43 

Crossing the Paces 45 

Couples 46 

Caligari 47 

Feather Lights 48 

Pearl Horizons . 49 

vii 



viii Contents 



PAGE 



Hoof Dusk ^o 

Haesk, Harsk ^i 

Brancusi 53 

Ambassadors of Grief 55 

Without the Cane and the Derby ... 56 

The Rakeoff and the Getaway .... 60 

Two Humpties 62 

Improved Farm Land 63 

Hell on the Wabash 64 

This — For the Moon — Yes? 65 

Primer Lesson 66 

Slabs of the Sunburnt West . . . . 67 



SLABS OF THE SUNBURNT WEST 



THE WINDY CITY 

I 
The lean hands of wagon men 
put out pointing fingers here, 
picked this crossway, put it on a map, 
set up their sawbucks, fixed their shotguns, 
found a hitching place for the pony express, 
made a hitching place for the iron horse, 
the one-eyed horse with the fire-spit head, 
found a homelike spot and said, " Make a home," 
saw this corner with a mesh of rails, shuttling 

people, shunting cars, shaping the junk of 

the earth to a new city. 

The hands of men took hold and tugged 
And the breaths of men went into the junk 
And the junk stood up into skyscrapers and asked: 
Who am I? Am I a city? And if I am what is my name? 
And once while the time whistles blew and blew again 
The men answered : Long ago we gave you a name. 
Long ago we laughed and said: You? Your name is 
Chicago. 

Early the red men gave a name to a river, 
the place of the skunk, 
the river of the wild onion smell, 
Shee-caw-go. 

3 



4 The Windy City 

Out of the payday songs of steam shovels, 
Out of the wages of structural iron rivets, 
The living lighted skyscrapers tell it now as a name, 
Tell it across miles of sea blue water, gray blue land: 
I am Chicago, I am a name given out by the breaths of 
working men, laughing men, a child, a belonging. 

So between the Great Lakes, 

The Grand De Tour, and the Grand Prairie, 

The living lighted skyscrapers stand, 

Spotting the blue dusk with checkers of yellow, 
streamers of smoke and silver, 
parallelograms of night-gray watchmen, 

Singing a soft moaning song: I am a child, a belonging. 



How should the wind songs of a windy city go? 
Singing in a high wind the dirty chatter gets blown 
away on the wind — the clean shovel, 
the clean pickax, 

lasts. 

It is easy for a child to get breakfast and pack off 

to school with a pair of roller skates, 

buns for lunch, and a geography. 
Riding through a tunnel under a river running backward, 

to school to listen . . . how the Pottawattamies . . . 

and the Blackhawks . . . ran on moccasins . . . 

between Kaskaskia, Peoria, Kankakee, and Chicago. 



The Windy City ^ 

It is easy to sit listening to a boy babbling 
of the Pottawattamie moccasins in Illinois, 
how now the roofs and smokestacks cover miles 
where the deerfoot left its writing 
and the foxpaw put its initials 
in the snow ... for the early moccasins ... to 
read. 



It is easy for the respectable taxpayers to sit in the 
street cars and read the papers, faces of burglars, 
the prison escapes, the hunger strikes, the cost of 
living, the price of dying, the shop gate battles of 
strikers and strikebreakers, the strikers killing 
scabs and the police killing strikers — the strongest, 
the strongest, always the strongest. 



It is easy to listen to the haberdasher customers hand 
each other their easy chatter — it is easy to die 
alive — to register a living thumbprint and be dead 
from the neck up. 

And there are sidewalks polished with the footfalls of 
undertakers' stiffs, greased mannikins, wearing up-to- 
the-minute SOX, lifting heels across doorsills, 
shoving their faces ahead of them — dead from the 
neck up — proud of their sox — their sox are the last 
word — dead from the neck up — it is easy. 



The Windy City 



Lash yourself to the bastion of a bridge 
and listen while the black cataracts of people go by, 
baggage, bundles, balloons, 
listen while they jazz the classics: 

" Since when did you kiss yourself in 
And who do you think you are? 
Come across, kick in, loosen up. 
Where do you get that chatter? " 

" Beat up the short change artists. 
They never did nothin' for you. 
How do you get that way? 
Tell me and I'll tell the world. 
I'll say so, I'll say it is." 

" You're trying to crab my act. 
You poor fish, you mackerel, 
You ain't got the sense God 
Gave an oyster — it's raining — 
What you want is an umbrella." 

"Hush baby— 
I don't know a thing. 
I don't know a thing. 

Hush baby." 

" Hush baby, 
It ain't how old you are, 



The Windy City 7 

It's how old you look. 

It ain't what you got, 

It's what you can get away with." 



" Bring home the bacon. 
Put it over, shoot it across. 

Send 'em to the cleaners. 
What we want is results, re-sults 

And damn the consequences. 
Sh . . . sh. . . . 
You can fix anything 
If you got the right fixers." 

" Kid each other, you cheap skates. 
Tell each other you're all to the mustard- 
You're the gravy." 

"Tell 'em, honey. 
Ain't it the truth, sweetheart? 

Watch your step. 

You said it. 

You said a mouthful. 
We're all a lot of damn fourflushers." 

" Hush baby! 

Shoot it, 

Shoot it all! 

Coo coo, coo coo " — 
This is one song of Chicago. 



The Windy City 



It is easy to come here a stranger and show the whole 
works, write a book, fix it all up — it is easy to come 
and go away a muddle-headed pig, a bum and a 
bag of wind. 



Go to it and remember this city fished from its 

depths a text: " independent as a hog on ice." 

Venice is a dream of soft waters, Vienna and Bagdad 
recollections of dark spears and wild turbans; Paris 
is a thought in Monet gray on scabbards, fabrics, 
fagades; London is a fact in a fog filled with the 
moaning of transatlantic whistles; Berlin sits amid 
white scrubbed quadrangles and torn arithmetics and 
testaments; Moscow brandishes a flag and repeats a 
dance figure of a man who walks like a bear. 

Chicago fished from its depths a text: Independent 
as a hog on ice. 



Forgive us if the monotonous houses go mile on mile 
Along monotonous streets out to the prairies — 
If the faces of the houses mumble hard words 
At the streets — and the street voices only say: 
" Dust and a bitter wind shall come." 



The Windy City 

Forgive us if the lumber porches and doorsteps 

Snarl at each other — 

And the brick chimneys cough in a close-up of 

Each other's faces — 

And the ramshackle stairways watch each other 

As thieves watch — 

And dooryard lilacs near a malleable iron works 

Long ago languished 

In a short whispering purple. 



And if the alley ash cans 

Tell the garbage wagon drivers 

The children play the alley is Heaven 

And the streets of Heaven shine 

With a grand dazzle of stones of gold 

And there are no policemen in Heaven — 

Let the rag-tags have it their way. 



And if the geraniums 

In the tin cans of the window sills 

Ask questions not worth answering — 

And if a boy and a girl hunt the sun 

With a sieve for sifting smoke — 

Let it pass — let the answer be — 

" Dust and a bitter wind shall come." 



Forgive us if the jazz timebeats 
Of these clumsy mass shadows 
Moan in saxophone undertones. 



10 The Windy City 

And the footsteps of the jungle, 

The fang cry, the rip claw hiss, 

The sneak-up and the still watch, 

The slant of the slit eyes waiting — 

If these bother respectable people 

with the right crimp in their napkins 
reading breakfast menu cards — 
forgive us — let it pass — let be. 

If cripples sit on their stumps 

And joke with the newsies bawling, 

" Many lives lost! many lives lost! 

Ter-ri-ble ac-ci-dent! many lives lost! " — 

If again twelve men let a woman go, 

" He done me wrong; I shot him " — 

Or the blood of a child's head 

Spatters on the hub of a motor truck — 

Or a 44-gat cracks and lets the skylights 

Into one more bank messenger — 

Or if boys steal coal in a railroad yard 

And run with humped gunny sacks 

While a bull picks off one of the kids 

And the kid wriggles with an ear in cinders 

And a mother comes to carry home 

A bundle, a limp bundle, 

To have his face washed, for the last time, 

Forgive us if it happens — and happens again- 

And happens again. 

Forgive the jazz timebeat 
of clumsy mass shadows, 



The Windy City 1 1 

footsteps of the jungle, 

the fang cry, the rip claw hiss, 

the slant of the slit eyes waiting. 

Forgive us if we work so hard 

And the muscles bunch clumsy on us 

And we never know why we work so hard — 

If the big houses with little families 

And the little houses with big families 

Sneer at each other's bars of misunderstanding; 

Pity us when we shackle and kill each other 

And believe at first we understand 

And later say we wonder why. 

Take home the monotonous patter 

Of the elevated railroad guard in the rush hours: 

" Watch your step. Watch your step. Watch your step." 

Or write on a pocket pad what a pauper said 

To a patch of purple asters at a whitewashed wall: 

" Let every man be his own Jesus — that's enough." 



The wheelbarrows grin, the shovels and the mortar 

hoist an exploit. 
The stone shanks of the Monadnock, the Transportation, 

the People's Gas Building, stand up and scrape 

at the sky. 
The wheelbarrows sing, the bevels and the blue prints 

whisper. 



12 The Windy City 

The library building named after Crerar, naked 
as a stock farm silo, light as a single eagle 
feather, stripped like an airplane propeller, 
takes a path up. 

Two cool new rivets say, " Maybe it is morning," 
" God knows." 

Put the city up ; tear the city down ; 

put it up again; let us find a city. 
Let us remember the little violet-eyed 

man who gave all, praying, " Dig and 

dream, dream and hammer, till your 

city comes." 

Every day the people sleep and the city dies; 
every day the people shake loose, awake and 
build the city again. 

The city is a tool chest opened every day, 
a time clock punched every morning, 
a shop door, bunkers and overalls 
counting every day. 

The city is a balloon and a bubble plaything 
shot to the sky every evening, whistled in 
a ragtime jig down the sunset. 

The city is made, forgotten, and made again, 
trucks hauling it away haul it back 
steered by drivers whistling ragtime 
against the sunsets. 



The Windy City 13 

Every day the people get up and carry the city, 
carry the bunkers and balloons of the city, 
lift it and put it down. 

" I will die as many times 
as you make me over again, 
says the city to the people, 
" I am the woman, the home, the family, 
I get breakfast and pay the rent; 
I telephone the doctor, the milkman, the undertaker; 
I fix the streets 

for your first and your last ride — 
" Come clean with me, come clean or dirty, 
I am stone and steel of your sleeping numbers; 
I remember all you forget. 
I will die as many times 
as you make me over again." 

Under the foundations, 

Over the roofs. 

The bevels and the blue prints talk it over. 

The wind of the lake shore waits and wanders. 

The heave of the shore wind hunches the sand piles. 

The winkers of the morning stars count out cities 

And forget the numbers. 

7 

At the white clock-tower 

lighted in night purples 

over the boulevard link bridge 

only the blind get by without acknowledgments. 



14 The Windy City 

The passers-by, factory punch-clock numbers, 
hotel girls out for the air, teameoes, 
coal passers, taxi drivers, window washers, 
paperhangers, floorwalkers, bill collectors, 
burglar alarm salesmen, massage students, 
manicure girls, chiropodists, bath rubbers, 
booze runners, hat cleaners, armhole basters, 
delicatessen clerks, shovel stiffs, work plugs — 

They all pass over the bridge, they all look up 
at the white clock-tower 
lighted in night purples 
over the boulevard link bridge — 
And sometimes one says, " Well, we hand it to 'em." 

Mention proud things, catalogue them. 

The jack-knife bridge opening, the ore boats, 
the wheat barges passing through. 

Three overland trains arriving the same hour, 
one from Memphis and the cotton belt, 
one from Omaha and the corn belt, 
one from Duluth, the lumberjack and the iron range. 

Mention a carload of shorthorns taken off the valleys 
of Wyoming last week, arriving yesterday, knocked in 
the head, stripped, quartered, hung in ice boxes 
to-day, mention the daily melodrama of this hum- 
drum, rhythms of heads, hides, heels, hoofs hung up. 



It is wisdom to think the people are the city. 
It is wisdom to think the city would fall to pieces 
and die and be dust in the wind. 



The Windy City 15 

If the people of the city all move away and leave no 

people at all to watch and keep the city. 
It is wisdom to think no city stood here at all until 

the working men, the laughing men, came. 
It is wisdom to think to-morrow new working men, new 

laughing men, may come and put up a new city — 
Living lighted skyscrapers and a night lingo of lanterns 

testify to-morrow shall have its own say-so. 

9 

Night gathers itself into a ball of dark yarn. 

Night loosens the ball and it spreads. 

The lookouts from the shores of Lake Michigan 
find night follows day, and ping! ping! across 
sheet gray the boat lights put their signals. 

Night lets the dark yarn unravel, Night speaks and 
the yarns change to fog and blue strands. 

The lookouts turn to the city. 

The canyons swarm with red sand lights 

of the sunset. 
The atoms drop and sift, blues cross over, 

yellows plunge. 
Mixed light shafts stack their bayonets, 

pledge with crossed handles. 
So, when the canyons swarm, it is then the 

lookouts speak 
Of the high spots over a street . . . mountain language 
Of skyscrapers in dusk, the Railway Exchange, 
The People's Gas, the Monadnock, the Transportation, 
Gone to the gloaming. 



1 6 The Windy City 

The river turns in a half circle. 

The Goose Island bridges curve 
over the river curve. 
Then the river panorama 
performs for the bridge, 
dots . . . lights . . . dots . . . lights, 
sixes and sevens of dots and lights, 
a lingo of lanterns and searchlights, 
circling sprays of gray and yellow. 



10 

A man came as a witness saying: 

'' I listened to the Great Lakes 

And I listened to the Grand Prairie, 

And they had little to say to each other, 

A whisper or so in a thousand years. 

' Some of the cities are big,' said one. 

' And some not so big,' said another. 

' And sometimes the cities are all gone,' 

Said a black knob bluff to a light green sea." 

Winds of the Windy City, come out of the prairie, 

all the way from Medicine Hat. 
Come out of the inland sea blue water, come where 

they nickname a city for you. 

Corn wind in the fall, come off the black lands, 
come off the whisper of the silk hangers, 
the lap of the flat spear leaves. 



The Windy City ij 

Blue water wind in summer, come off the blue miles 
of lake, carry your inland sea blue fingers, 
carry us cool, carry your blue to our homes. 

White spring winds, come off the bag wool clouds, 
come off the running melted snow, come white 
as the arms of snow-born children. 

Gray fighting winter winds, come along on the tear- 
ing blizzard tails, the snouts of the hungry 
hunting storms, come fighting gray in winter. 

Winds of the Windy City, 

Winds of corn and sea blue, 

Spring wind white and fighting winter gray. 

Come home here — they nickname a city for you. 

The wind of the lake shore waits and wanders. 
The heave of the shore wind hunches the sand piles. 
The winkers of the morning stars count out cities 
And forget the numbers. 



1 8 Slabs of the Sunburnt West 



WASHINGTON MONUMENT BY NIGHT 



The stone goes straight. 

A lean swimmer dives into night sky, 

Into half-moon mist. 

2 

Two trees are coal black. 

This is a great white ghost between. 

It is cool to look at. 

Strong men, strong women, come here. 



Eight years is a long time 
To be fighting all the time. 



The republic is a dream. 

Nothing happens unless first a dream. 



The wind bit hard at Valley Forge one Christmas. 
Soldiers tied rags on their feet. 



Washington Monument by Night 19 

Red footprints wrote on the snow . . . 
. . . and stone shoots into stars here 
. . . into half-moon mist to-night. 



Tongues wrangled dark at a man. 
He buttoned his overcoat and stood alone. 
In a snowstorm, red hoUyberries, thoughts, 
he stood alone. 



Women said: He is lonely 

. . . fighting . . . fighting . . . eight years . 



8 



The name of an iron man goes over the world. 
It takes a long time to forget an iron man. 



20 Slabs of the Sunburnt West 



AND SO TO-DAY 

And so to-day — they lay him away — 
the boy nobody knows the name of — 
the buck private — the unknown soldier- 
the doughboy who dug under and died 
when they told him to — that's him. 



Down Pennsylvania Avenue to-day the riders go, 
men and boys riding horses, roses in their teeth, 
stems of roses, rose leaf stalks, rose dark leaves- 
the line of the green ends in a red rose flash. 



Skeleton men and boys riding skeleton horses, 

the rib bones shine, the rib bones curve, 

shine with savage, elegant curves — 

a jawbone runs with a long white slant, 

a skull dome runs with a long white arch, 

bone triangles click and rattle, 

elbows, ankles, white line slants — 

shining in the sun, past the White House, 

past the Treasury Building, Army and Navy Buildings, 

on to the mystic white Capitol Dome — 

so they go down Pennsylvania Avenue to-day, 

skeleton men and boys riding skeleton horses, 

stems of roses in their teeth, 



And So To-day 21 

rose dark leaves at their white jav; slants — 
and a horse laugh question nickers and whinnies, 
moans with a whistle out of horse head teeth: 
why? who? where? 

( " The big fish— eat the little fish— 
the little fish — eat the shrimps — 
and the shrimps — eat mud." — 
said a cadaverous man — ^with a black umbrella — 
spotted with white polka dots — with a missing 
ear — with a missing foot and arms — 
with a missing sheath of muscles 
singing to the silver sashes of the sun.) 

And so to-day — they lay him away — 
the boy nobody knows the name of — 
the buck private — the unknown soldier — 
the doughboy who dug under and died 
when they told him to — that's him. 

If he picked himself and said, " I am ready to die," 
if he gave his name and said, " My country, take me," 
then the baskets of roses to-day are for the Boy, 
the flowers, the songs, the steamboat whistles, 
the proclamations of the honorable orators, 
they are all for the Boy — that's him. 

If the government of the Republic picked him saying, 
" You are wanted, your country takes you " — 
if the Republic put a stethoscope to his heart 
and looked at his teeth and tested his eyes and said, 



22 And So To-day 

" You are a citizen of the Republic and a sound animal 
in all parts and functions — the Republic takes you " — 
then to-day the baskets of flowers are all for the Republic, 
the roses, the songs, the steamboat whistles, 
the proclamations of the honorable orators — 
they are all for the Republic. 

And so to-day — they lay him away — 
and an understanding goes — his long sleep shall be 
under arms and arches near the Capitol Dome — 
there is an authorization — he shall have tomb com- 
panions — 
the martyred presidents of the Republic — 
the buck private — the unknown soldier — 'that's him. 

The man who was war commander of the armies of the 

Republic 
rides down Pennsylvania Avenue — 
The man who is peace commander of the armies of the 

Republic 
rides dovra Pennsylvania Avenue — 
for the sake of the Boy, for the sake of the Republic. 

(And the hoofs of the skeleton horses 
all drum soft on the asphalt footing — 
so soft is the drumming, so soft the roll call 
of the grinning sergeants calling the roll call — 
so soft is it all — a camera man murmurs, " Moon- 
shine.") 



And So To-day 23 

Look — who salutes the coffin — 

lays a wreath of remembrance 

on the box where a buck private 

sleeps a clean dry sleep at last — 

look — it is the highest ranking general 

of the officers of the armies of the Republic. 

(Among pigeon corners of the Congressional Library 
— they file documents quietly, casually, all in a day's 
work — this human document, the buck private 
nobody knows the name of — they file away in gran- 
ite and steel — with music and roses, salutes, proc- 
lamations of the honorable orators.) 

Across the country, between two ocean shore lines, 

where cities cling to rail and water routes, 

there people and horses stop in their foot tracks, 

cars and wagons stop in their wheel tracks — 

faces at street crossings shine with a silence 

of eggs laid in a row on a pantry shelf — 

among the ways and paths of the flow of the Republic 

faces come to a standstill, sixty clockticks count — 

in the name of the Boy, in the name of the Republic. 

(A million faces a thousand miles from Pennsylvania 
Avenue stay frozen with a look, a clocktick, a 
moment — skeleton riders on skeleton horses — the 
nickering high horse laugh, the whinny and the 
howl up Pennsylvania Avenue: who? why? where?) 



24 And So To-day 

(So people far from the asphalt footing of Pennsyl- 
vania Avenue look, wonder, mumble — the riding 
white-jaw phantoms ride hi-eeee, hi-eeee, hi-yi, hi-yi, 
hi-eeee — the proclamations of the honorable orators 
mix with the top-sergeants whistling the roll call.) 

If when the clockticks counted sixty, 

when the heartbeats of the Republic 

came to a stop for a minute, 

if the Boy had happened to sit up, 

happening to sit up as Lazarus sat up, in the story, 

then the first shivering language to drip off his mouth 

might have come as, " Thank God," or " Am I 

dreaming? " 
or " What the hell " or " When do we eat? " 
or " Kill 'em, kill 'em, the . . ." 
or " Was that . . . a rat . . . ran over my face? " 
or " For Christ's sake, gimme water, gimme water," 

or '' Blub blub, bloo bloo " 

or any bubbles of shell shock gibberish 
from the gashes of No Man's Land. 

Maybe some buddy knows, 
some sister, mother, sweetheart, 
maybe some girl who sat with him once 
when a two-horn silver moon 
slid on the peak of a house-roof gable, 
and promises lived in the air of the night, 
when the air was filled with promises, 
when any little slip-shoe lovey 
could pick a promise out of the air. 



And So To-day 25 

" Feed it to 'em, 

they lap it up, 

bull . . . bull . . . bull," 
Said a movie news reel camera man. 
Said a Washington newspaper correspondent, 
Said a baggage handler lugging a trunk, 
Said a two-a-day vaudeville juggler, 
Said a hanky-pank selling jumping-jacks. 
*' Hokum — they lap it up," said the bunch. 



And a tall scar-face ball player. 

Played out as a ball player. 

Made a speech of his own for the hero boy, 

Sent an earful of his own to the dead buck private: 

" It's all safe now, buddy. 

Safe when you say yes. 

Safe for the yes-men." 



He was a tall scar-face battler 

With his face in a newspaper 

Reading want ads, reading jokes, 

Reading love, murder, politics. 

Jumping from jokes back to the want ads, 

Reading the want ads first and last. 

The letters of the word JOB, " J-O-B," 

Burnt like a shot of bootleg booze 

In the bones of his head — 

In the wish of his scar-face eyes. 



26 And So To-day 

The honorable orators, 

Always the honorable orators, 

Buttoning the buttons on their prinz alberts, 

Pronouncing the syllables " sac-ri-fice," 

Juggling those bitter salt-soaked syllables — 

Do they ever gag with hot ashes in their mouths? 

Do their tongues ever shrivel with a pain of fire 

Across those simple syllables " sac-ri-fice " ? 

(There was one orator people far off saw. 
He had on a gunnysack shirt over his bones, 
And he lifted an elbow socket over his head, 
And he lifted a skinny signal finger. 
And he had nothing to say, nothing easy — 
He mentioned ten million men, mentioned them as having 
gone west, mentioned them as shoving up the daisies. 
We could write it all on a postage stamp, what he said. 
He said it and quit and faded away, 
A gunnysack shirt on his bones.) 

Stars of the night sky, 

did you see that phantom fadeout, 

did you see those phantom riders, 

skeleton riders on skeleton horses, 

stems of roses in their teeth, 

rose leaves red on white- jaw slants, 

grinning along on Pennsylvania Avenue, 

the top-sergeants calling roll calls — 

did their horses nicker a horse laugh? 

did the ghosts of the boney battalions 

move out and on, up the Potomac, over on the Ohio, 



And So To-day 27 

and out to the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Red 
River, 

and down to the Rio Grande, and on to the Yazoo, 

over to the Chattahoochee and up to the Rappa- 
hannock? 

did you see 'em, stars of the night sky? 

And so to-day — they lay him away — • 
the boy nobody knows the name of — 
they lay him away in granite and steel — 
with music and roses — under a flag — 
under a sky of promises. 



28 Slabs of the Sunburnt West 



BLACK HORIZONS 

Black horizons, come up. 
Black horizons, kiss me. 
That is all; so many lies; killing so cheap; 
babies so cheap ; blood, people, so cheap ; and 
land high, land dear; a speck of the earth 
costs; a suck at the tit of Mother Dirt so 
clean and strong, it costs; fences, papers, 
sheriffs; fences, laws, guns; and so many- 
stars and so few hours to dream ; such a big 
song and so little a footing to stand and 
sing; take a look; wars to come; red rivers 
to cross. 

Black horizons, come up. 
Black horizons, kiss me. 



Slabs of the Sunburnt West 29 



SEA SLANT 

On up the sea slant, 
On up the horizon, 
This ship limps. 

The bone of her nose fog-gray, 
The heart of her sea-strong, 
She came a long way, 
She goes a long way. 

On up the horizon, 

On up the sea-slant. 

She limps sea-strong, fog-gray. 

She is a green-lit night gray. 
She comes and goes in sea fog. 
Up the horizon slant she limps. 



30 Slabs of the Sunburnt West 



UPSTREAM 

The strong men keep coming on. 
They go down shot, hanged, sick, 

broken. 
They live on fighting, singing, 

lucky as plungers. 
The strong mothers pulling them 

on . . 
The strong mothers pulling them 

from a dark sea, a great prairie, 

a long mountain. 
Call hallelujah, call amen, call 

deep thanks. 
The strong men keep coming on. 



Slabs of the Sunburnt West 31 



FOUR STEICHEN PRINTS 

The earth, the rock and the oil of the earth, the 
slippery frozen places of the earth, these are for homes 
of rainbow bubbles, curves of the circles of a bubble, 
curves of the arcs of the rainbow prisms — between sun 
and rock they lift to the sun their foam feather and go. 

Throw your neck back, throw it back till the neck 
muscles shine at the sun, till the falling hair at the 
scalp is a black cry, till limbs and knee bones form 
an altar, and a girl's torso over the fire-rock torso shouts 
hi yi, hi yee, hallelujah. 

Goat girl caught in the brambles, deerfoot or fox-head, 
ankles and hair of feeders of the wind, let all the covering 
burn, let all stopping a naked plunger from plunging 
naked, let it all burn in this wind fire, let the fire have 
it in a fast crunch and a flash. 

They threw you into a pot of thorns with a wreath in 
your hair and bunches of grapes over your head — your 
hard little buttocks in the thorns — then the black eyes, 
the white teeth, the nameless muscular flair of you, 
rippled and twisted in sliding rising scales of laughter; 
the earth never had a gladder friend; pigs, goats, deer, 
tawny tough-haired jaguars might understand you. 



32 Slabs of the Sunburnt West 



FINS 

Plow over bars of sea plov/ing, 
the moon by moon work of the sea, 
the plowing, sand and rock, must 
be done. 

Ride over, ride over bars of sea riding, 
the sun and the blue riding of the sea — 
sit in the saddles and say it, sea riders. 

Slant up and go, silver breakers; mix 
the high howls of your dancing; shoot 
your laugh of rainbow foam tops. 

Foam wings, fly ; pick the comers, the fin pink, 
the belly green, the blue rain sparks, the 
white wave spit — fly, you foam wings. 

The men of the sea are gone to work; the women 
of the sea are off buying new hats, combs, clocks; 
it is rust and gold on the roofs of the sea. 



Slabs of the Sunburnt West 33 



BEAT, OLD HEART 

Beat, old heart, these are the old bars 
All strugglers have beat against. 
Beat on these bars like the old sea 
Beats on the rocks and beaches. 
Beat here like the old winter winds 
Beat on the prairies and timbers. 
Old grizzlies, eagles, buffalo, 
Their paws and beaks register this. 
Their hides and heads say it with scars. 



34 Slabs of the Sunburnt West 



MOON RIDERS 



What have I saved out of a morning? 

The earliest of the morning came with moon-mist 

And the travel of a moon-spilt purple; 

Bars, horseshoes, Texas longhorns. 

Linked in night silver, 

Linked under leaves in moonlit silver, 

Linked in rags and patches 

Out of the ice houses of the morning moon. 

Yes, this was the earliest — 

Before the cowpunchers on the eastern rims 

Began riding into the sun, 

Riding the roan mustangs of morning. 

Roping the mavericks after the latest stars. 

What have I saved out of a morning? 

Was there a child face I saw once 

Smiling up a stairway of the morning moon? 



" It is time for work," said a man in the morning. 
He opened the faces of the clocks, saw their works, 
Saw the wheels oiled and fitted, running smooth. 
" It is time to begin a day's work," he said again, 
Watching a bull-finch hop on the rain-worn boards 



Moon Riders 35 

Of a beaten fence counting its bitter winters. 
The slinging feet of the bull-finch and the flash 
Of its flying feathers as it flipped away 
Took his eyes away from the clocks, his flying eyes. 
He walked over, stood in front of the clocks again 
And said, " I'm sorry; I apologize forty ways." 



The morning paper lay bundled 

Like a spear in a museum 

Across the broken sleeping room 

Of a moon-sheet spider. 
The spinning work of the morning spider's feet 
Left off where the morning paper's pages lay 
In the shine of the web in the summer dew grass. 
The man opened the morning paper, saw the first page, 
The back page, the inside pages, the editorials, 
Saw the world go by, eating, stealing, fighting. 
Saw the headlines, date lines, funnies, ads. 
The marching movies of the workmen going to work, 

the workmen striking, 
The workmen asking jobs — ^five million pairs of eyes look 

for a boss and say, " Take me" 
People eating with too much to eat, people eating with 

nothing in sight to eat to-morrow, eating as though 

eating belongs where people belong. 

" Hustle, you hustlers, while the bustling's good," 
Said the man, turning the morning paper's pages, 
Turning among headlines, date lines, funnies, ads. 



36 Moon Riders 

" Hustlers carrying the banner," said the man 
Dropping the paper and beginning to hunt the city, 
Hunting the alleys, boulevards, back-door by-ways, 
Hunting till he found a blind horse dying alone, 
Telling the horse, " Two legs or four legs — it's all the 
same with a work plug." 

A hayfield mist of evening saw him 

Watching moon riders lose the moon 

For new shooting stars — he asked, 
" Christ, what have I saved out of a morning? " 
He called up a stairway of the morning moon 
And he remembered a child face smiling up that same 

stairway. 



Slabs of the Sunburnt West 37 



AT THE GATES OF TOMBS 

Civilizations are set up and knocked down 
the same as pins in a bowling alley. 

Civilizations get into the garbage wagons 
and are hauled away the same as potato 
peelings or any pot scrapings. 

Civilizations, all the work of the artists, 
inventors, dreamers of work and genius, 
go to the dumps one by one. 

Be silent about it ; since at the gates of tombs 
silence is a gift, be silent; since at the epitaphs 
written in the air, since at the swan songs hung in 
the air, silence is a gift, be silent; forget it. 

If any fool, babbler, gabby mouth, stand up and say: 
Let us make a civilization where the sacred and 
beautiful things of toil and genius shall last — 

If any such noisy gazook stands up and makes himself 
heard — ^put him out — tie a can on him — lock him up 
in Leavenworth — shackle him in the Atlanta hoosegow 
— let him eat from the tin dishes at Sing Sing — 
slew him in as a lifer at San Quentin. 



38 At the Gates of Tombs 

It is the law; as a civilization dies and goes down 
to eat ashes along with all other dead civilizations 
— it is the law all dirty wild dreamers die first — 
gag 'em, lock 'em up, get 'em bumped off. 

And since at the gates of tombs silence is a gift, 
be silent about it, yes, be silent — forget it. 



Slabs of the Sunburnt West 39 



HAZARDOUS OCCUPATIONS 

Jugglers keep six bottles in the air. 
Club swingers toss up six and eight. 
The knife throwers miss each other's 

ears by a hair and the steel quivers 

in the target wood. 
The trapeze battlers do a back-and-forth 

high in the air with a girl's feet 

and ankles upside down. 
So they earn a living — till they miss 

once, twice, even three times. 
So they live on hate and love as gypsies 

live in satin skins and shiny eyes. 
In their graves do the elbows jostle once 

in a blue moon — ^and wriggle to throw 

a kiss answering a dreamed-of applause? 
Do the bones repeat: It's a ^00 J act — 

we got a good hand. . . . ? 



40 Slabs of the Sunburnt West 



PROPS 



Roll open this rug; a minx is 
in it; see her toe wiggHng; 
roll open the rug; she is a 
runaway; or somebody is trying 
to steal her; here she is; 
here's your minx; how can we 
have a play unless we have 
this minx? 



The child goes out in the storm 
stage thunder; " erring daughter, 
never darken this door-sill again " ; 
the tender parents speak their curse; 
the child puts a few knick-knacks in 
a handkerchief; and the child goes; 
the door closes and the child goes; 
she is out now, in the storm on the 
stage, out forever ; snow, you son-of-a-gun, 
snow, turn on the snow. 



Slabs of the Sunburnt West 41 



GYPSY MOTHER 

In a hole-in-a-wall on Halsted Street sits a gypsy 

woman, 
In a garish gas-lit rendezvous, in a humpback higgling 

hole-in-a-wall. 

The left hand is a tattler; stars and oaths and alphabets 

Commit themselves and tell happenings gone, happenings 

to come, pathways of honest people, hypocrites. 

" Long pointed fingers mean imagination ; a star on the 
third finger says a black shadow walks near." 

Cross the g3^sy's hand with fifty cents and she takes 
your left hand and reads how you shall be happy in 
love, or not, and whether you die rich, or not. 

Signs outside the hole-in-a-wall say so, misspell the 
promises, scrawl the superior g3npsy mysteries. 

A red shawl on her shoulders falls with a fringe hem to 

a green skirt; 
Chains of yellow beads sweep from her neck to her tawny 

hands. 
Fifty springtimes must have kissed her mouth holding a 

calabash pipe. 
She pulls slow contemplative puffs of smoke; she is a 

shape for ghosts of contemplation to sit around and 



42 Gypsy Mother 

ask why something cheap as happiness is here and 
more besides, chapped lips, rough eyes, red shawl. 
She is thinking about somebody and something the same 
as Whistler's mother sat and thought about some- 
body and something. 

In a hole-in-a-wall on Halsted Street are stars, oaths, 
alphabets. 



Slabs of the Sunburnt West 43 

GOLD MUD 

{For R. F.) 

The pot of gold at the rainbow end 
is a pot of mud, gold mud, 
slippery shining mud. 



Pour it on your hair and you will 

have a golden hair. 
Pour it on your cat and you will 

have a golden cat. 
Pour it on your clock and you will 

have a golden clock. 



Pour it on a dead man's thumb and 
you will have a golden thumb 
to bring you bad dreams. 

Pour it on a dead woman's ear and 
you will have a golden ear 
to tell hard luck stories to. 

Pour it on a horse chestnut and you 
will have a golden buckeye 
changing your luck. 



44 Gold Mud 

Pour it in the shape of a holy cross, 

fasten it on my shirt for me to wear 
and I will have a keepsake. 

I will touch it and say a prayer for you. 



Slabs of the Sunburnt West 45 



CROSSING THE PACES 

The Sioux sat around their wigwam fires 
in winter with some papooses hung up 
and some laid down. 

And the Sioux had a saying, " Love grows 
like hair on a black bear's skin." 

The Arabians spill this: The first gray 
hair is a challenge of death. 
A Polish blacksmith: A good black- 
smith is not afraid of smoke. 
And a Scandinavian warns: The world was born 
in fire and he who is fire himself will be 
at home anywhere on earth. 
So a stranger told his children: You are 
strangers — and warned them: 

Bob your hair; or let it grow long; 

Be a company, a party, a picnic ; 

Be alone, a nut, a potato, an orange blossom, 
a keg of nails ; if you get lost try a 
want ad; if night comes try a long sleep. 



46 Slabs of the Sunburnt West 



COUPLES 

Six miasmic women in green 
danced an absinthe dance 
hissing oaths of laughter 
at six men they cheated. 

Six miasmic men did the same 
for six women they cheated. 

It was a stand-off 

in oaths of laughter hissed; 

The dirt is hard where they danced. 
The pads of their feet made a floor. 

The weeds wear moon mist mourning veils. 
The weeds come high as six little crosses, 
One little cross for each couple. 



Slabs of the Sunburnt West 47 



CALIGARI 

Mannikins, we command you. 

Stand up with your white beautiful skulls. 

Stand up with your moaning sockets. 

Dance your stiff limping dances. 

We handle you with spic and span gloves. 

We tell you when and how 

And how much. 



48 Slabs of the Sunburnt West 

FEATHER LIGHTS 

Macabre and golden the moon opened a slant of light. 

A triangle for an oriole to stand and sing, " Take me 
home." 

A layer of thin white gold feathers for a child queen of 
gypsies. 

So the moon opened a slant of light and let it go. 

So the lonesome dogs, the fog moon, the pearl mist, 
came back. 



Slabs of the Sunburnt West 49 



PEARL HORIZONS 

Under a prairie fog moon 

in a circle of pearl mist horizons, 

a few lonesome dogs scraping thongs, 

midnight is lonely; the fog moon midnight 

takes up again its even smooth November. 

Memories: you can flick me and sting me. 
Memories, you can hold me even and smooth. 

A circle of pearl mist horizons 
is not a woman to be walked up to and kissed, 
nor a child to be taken and held for a good-night, 
nor any old coffee-drinking pal to be smiled at in 
the eyes and left with a grip and a handshake. 

Pearl memories in the mist circling the horizon, 
flick me, sting me, hold me even and smooth. 



50 Slabs of the Sunburnt West 



HOOF DUSK 

The dusk of this box wood 
is leather gold, buckskin gold, 
and the hoofs of a dusk goat 
leave their heel marks on it. 

The cover of this wooden box 
is a last-of-the-sunset red, 
a red with a sandman sand 
fixed in evening siftings — 
late evening sands are here. 

The gold of old clocks, 
forgotten in garrets, 
hidden out between battles 
of long wars and short wars, 
the smoldering ember gold 
of old clocks found again — 
here is the small smoke fadeout 
of their slow loitering. 

Feel me with your fingers, 

measure me in fire and wind: 

maybe I am buckskin gold, old clock gold, 

late evening sunset sand — 

Let go 

and loiter 

in the smoke fadeout. 



Slabs of the Sunburnt West 51 



HARSK, HARSK 



Harsk, harsk, the wind blows to-night. 
What a night for a baby to come into the world! 
What a night for a melodrama baby to come 
And the father wondering 
And the mother wondering 
What the years will bring on their stork feet 
Till a year when this very baby might be saying 
On some storm night when a melodrama baby is born: 
"What a night 
for a baby 

to come into the world!! " 
Harsk, harsk, the wind blows to-night. 



It is five months off. 

Knit, stitch, and hemstitch. 

Sheets, bags, towels, these are the offerings. 

When he is older — or she is a big girl — 

There may be flowers or ribbons or money 

For birthday offerings. Now, however, 

We must remember it is a naked stranger 

Coming to us, and the sheath of the arrival 



52 Harsk, Harsk 

Is so soft we must be ready, and soft too. 
Knit, stitch, hemstitch, it is only five months. 



It would be easy to pick a lucky star for this baby 
If a choice of two stars lay before our eyes, 
One a pearl gold star and one pearl silver, 
And the offer of a chance to pick a lucky star. 



When the high hour comes 

Let there be a light flurry of snow, 

A little zigzag of white spots 

Against the gray roofs. 
The snow-born all understand this as a luck-wish. 



Slabs of the Sunburnt West 53 



BRANCUSI 

Brancusi is a galoot; he saves tickets to take him no- 
where ; a galoot with his baggage ready and no time table ; 
ah yes, Brancusi is a galoot; he understands birds and 
skulls so well, he knows the hang of the hair of the coils 
and plaits on a woman's head, he knows them so far back 
he knows where they came from and where they are 
going; he is fathoming do^vn for the secrets of the first 
and the oldest makers of shapes. 

Let us speak with loose mouths to-day not at all about 
Brancusi because he has hardly started nor is hardly able 
to say the name of the place he wants to go when he has 
time and is ready to start ; O Brancusi, keeping hardwood 
planks around your doorsteps in the sun waiting for the 
hardwood to be harder for your hard hands to handle, 
you Brancusi with your chisels and hammers, birds going 
to cones, skulls going to eggs — how the hope hugs your 
heart you will find one cone, one egg, so hard when the 
earth turns mist there among the last to go will be a 
cone, an egg. 

Brancusi, you will not put a want ad in the papers telling 
God it will be to his advantage to come around and see 
you; you will not grow gabby and spill God earfuls of 
prayers; you will not get fresh and familiar as if God 
is a next-door neighbor and you have counted His shirts 



54 Brancusi 

on a clothes line; you will go stammering, stuttering and 
mumbling or you will be silent as a mouse in a church 
garret when the pipe organ is pouring ocean waves on 
the sunlit rocks of ocean shores ; if God is saving a corner 
for any battling bag of bones, there will be one for you, 
there will be one for you, Brancusi. 



Slabs of the Sunburnt West 55 



AMBASSADORS OF GRIEF 

There was a little fliv of a woman loved one man and 
lost out. And she took up with another and it was a 
blank again. And she cried to God the whole layout 
was a fake and a frame-up. And when she took up with 
Number Three she found the fires burnt out, the love 
power, gone. And she wrote a letter to God and dropped 
it in a mail-box. The letter said: 

God, ain't there some way you can fix it up so the 
little fiivs of women, ready to throw themselves in front 
of railroad trains for men they love, can have a chance? 

1 guessed the wrong keys, I battered on the wrong panels, 
I picked the wrong roads. O God, ain't there no way to 
guess again and start all over back where I had the keys 
in my hands, back where the roads all came together and 
I had my pick? 

And the letter went to Washington, D. C, dumped into a 
dump where all letters go addressed to God — and no 
house number. 



56 Slabs of the Sunburnt West 

WITHOUT THE CANE AND THE DERBY 

(For C. C.) 

The woman had done him wrong. 

Either that ... or the woman was clean as a white rose 
in the morning gauze of dew. 

It was either one or the other or it was the two things, 
right and wrong, woven together Hke two braids of 
a woman's head of hair hanging down woven together. 

The room is dark. The door opens. It is Charlie playing 
for his friends after dinner, " the marvelous urchin, 
the little genius of the screen," (chatter it like a 
monkey's running laughter cry.) 

No ... it is not Charlie ... it is somebody else. It 
is a man, gray shirt, bandana, dark face. A candle 
in his left hand throws a slant of light on the dark 
face. The door closes slow. The right hand leaves 
the door knob slow. 

He looks at something. What is it? A white sheet on a 
table. He takes two long soft steps. He runs the 
candle light around a hump in the sheet. He lifts the 
sheet slow, sad like. 

A woman's head of hair shows, a woman's white face. Re 
takes the head between his hands and looks long at 



Without the Cane and the Derby 57 

it. His fingers trickle under the sheet, snap loose 
something, bring out fingers full of a pearl necklace. 
He covers the face and the head of hair with the white 
sheet. He takes a step toward the door. The necklace 
slips into his pocket off the fingers of his right hand. 
His left hand lifts the candle for a good-by look. 

Knock, knock, knock. A knocking the same as the time 

of the human heartbeat. 
Knock, knock, knock, first louder, then lower. Knock, 

knock, knock, the same as the time of the human 

heartbeat. 
He sets the candle on the floor . . . leaps to the white 

sheet . . . rips it back . , . has his fingers at the 

neck, his thumbs at the throat, and does three slow 

fierce motions of strangling. 
The knocking stops. All is quiet. He covers the face and 

the head of hair with the white sheet, steps back, 

picks up the candle and listens. 
Knock, knock, knock, a knocking the same as the time 

of the human heartbeat. 
Knock, knock, knock, first louder, then lower. Knock, 

knock, knock, the same as the time of the human 

heartbeat. 
Again the candle to the floor, the leap, the slow fierce 

motions of strangling, the cover-up of the face and 

the head of hair, the step back, the listening. 
And again the knock, knock, knock . . . louder . . . 

lower ... to the time of the human heartbeat. 
Once more the motions of strangling . . .then . . . 

nothing at all . . . nothing at all . . . no more 



58 Without the Cane and the Derby 

knocking ... no knocking at all . . . no knocking 
at all . . , in the time of the human heartbeat. 



He stands at the door . . . peace, peace, peace every- 
where only in the man's face so dark and his eyes 
so lighted up with many lights, no peace at all, no 
peace at all. 

So he stands at the door, his right hand on the door knob, 
the candle slants of light fall and flicker from his 
face to the straight white sheet changing gray against 
shadows. 

So there is peace everywhere ... no more knocking . . . 
no knocking at all to the time of the human heart- 
beat ... so he stands at the door and his right hand 
on the door knob. 

And there is peace everywhere . . . only the man's face 
is a red gray plaster of storm in the center of peace 
... so he stands with a candle at the door ... so 
he stands with a red gray face. 

After he steps out the door closes; the door, the door 
knob, the table, the white sheet, there is nothing at 
all; the owners are shadows; the owners are gone; 
not even a knocking; not even a knock, knock, 
knock . . . louder, lower, in the time of the human 
heartbeat. 

The lights are snapped on. Charlie, " the marvelous 
urchin, the little genius of the screen " (chatter it 
with a running monkey's laughter cry) Charlie is 
laughing a laugh the whole world knows. 



Without the Cane and the Derby 59 

The room is full of cream yellow lights. Charlie is 
laughing . . . louder . . . lower . . . 

And again the heartbeats laugh ... the human heart- 
beats laugh. . . . 



6o Slabs of the Sunburnt West 



THE RAKEOFF AND THE GETAWAY 

" Shall we come back? " the gamblers asked. 
" If you want to, if you feel that way," the answer. 

And they must have wanted to, 

they must have felt that way; 

for they came back, 

hats pulled down over their eyes 

as though the rain or the policemen 

or the shadows of a sneaking scar-face Nemesis 

followed their tracks and hunted them down. 

" What was the clean-up? Let's see the rakeoff," 

somebody asked them, looking into their eyes 

far under the pulled-down hat rims; 

and their eyes had only the laugh of the rain in them, 

lights of escape from a sneaking scar-face Nemesis 

hunting their tracks, hunting them down. 

Anvils, pincers, mosquitoes, anguish, raspberries, 

steaks and gravy, remorse, ragtime, slang, 

a woman's looking glass to be held in the hand 

for looking at the face and the face make-up, 

blackwing birds fitted onto slits 

of the sunsets they were flying into, 

bitter green waters, clear running waters, 



The Rakeoff and the Getaway 6i 

standing pools ringing the changes 

of all the triangles of the equinoxes of the sky, 

and a woman's slipper 

with a tarnished buckle, 

a tarnished Chinese silver buckle. 

The gamblers snatched their hats off babbling, 
" Some layout — take your pick, kid." 

And their eyes had yet in them 
the laugh of the rain 
and the lights of their getaway 
from a sneaking scar-face Nemesis. 



62 Slabs of the Sunburnt West 



TWO HUMPTIES 

They tried to hand it to us on a platter, 

Us hit in the eyes with marconigrams from moon 

dancers — 
And the bubble busted, went flooey, on a thumb touch. 

So this time again, Humpty, 
We cork our laughs behind solemn phizzogs, 
Sweep the floor with the rim of our hats 
And say good-a-by and good-a-by, just like that. 

To-morrow maybe they will be hit 
In the eyes with marconigrams 
From moon dancers. 
Good-a-by, our hats and all of us say good-a-by. 



Slabs of the Sunburnt West 63 



IMPROVED FARM LAND 

Tall timber stood here once, here on a corn belt farm 

along the Monon. 
Here the roots of a half mile of trees dug their runners 

deep in the loam for a grip and a hold against wind 

storms. 
Then the axmen came and the chips flew to the zing of 

steel and handle — the lank railsplitters cut the big 

ones first, the beeches and the oaks, then the brush. 
Dynamite, wagons and horses took the stumps — the 

plows sunk their teeth in — now it is first class corn 

land — improved property — and the hogs grunt over 

the fodder crops. 
It would come hard now for this half mile of improved 

farm land along the Monon corn belt, on a piece of 

Grand Prairie, to remember once it had a great 

singing family of trees. 



64 Slabs of the Sunburnt West 



HELL ON THE WABASH 

When country fiddlers held a convention in 

Danville, the big money went to a barn dance 

artist who played Turkey in the Straw, with 

variations. 

They asked him the name of the piece calling 

it a humdinger and he answered, " I call it 

' Hell On The Wabash.' " 

The two next best were The Speckled Hen, and 

Sweet Potatoes Grow in Sandy Land, with 

variations. 



Slabs of the Sunburnt West 65 



THIS— FOR THE MOON— YES? 

This is a good book? Yes? 

Throw it at the moon. 

Stand on the ball of your right foot 

And come to the lunge of a center fielder 

Straddling in a throw for the home plate, 

Let her go — spang — this book for the moon 

— yes? 
And then — other books, good books, even the 

best books — shoot 'em with a long twist 

at the moon — ^yes? 



66 Slabs of the Sunburnt West 



PRBIER LESSON 

Look out how you use proud words. 
When you let proud words go, it is 

not easy to call them back. 
They wear long boots, hard boots; they 

walk off proud ; they can't hear j-ou 

calling — 
Look out how you use proud words. 



Slabs of the Sunburnt West 



SLABS OF THE SUNBURNT WEST 



Into the night, into the blanket of night, 
Into the night rain gods, the night luck gods, 
Overland goes the overland passenger train. 

Stand up, sandstone slabs of red. 
Tell the overland passengers who burnt you. 

Tell 'em how the jacks and screws loosened you. 

Tell 'em who shook you by the heels and stood you on 

your heads. 
Who put the slow pink of sunset mist on your faces. 

Panels of the cold gray open night. 

Gates of the Great American Desert, 

Skies keeping the prayers of the wagon men, 
The riders with picks, shovels and guns, 

On the old trail, the Santa Fe trail, the Raton pass 

Panels, skies, gates, listen to-night while we send up our 
prayers on the Santa Fe trail. 

(A colossal bastard frog 
squats in stone. 
Once he squawked. 
Then he was frozen and 
shut up forever.) 



68 Slabs of the Sunburnt West 

Into the night the overland passenger train, 
Slabs of sandstone red sink to the sunset red, 
Blankets of night cover 'em up. 
Night rain gods, night luck gods, are looking on. 

March on, processions. 
Tie your hat to the saddle and ride, O Rider. 
Let your ponies drag their navels in the sand. 
Go hungry; leave your bones in the desert sand. 
When the desert takes you the wind is clean. 
The winds say so on a noisy night. 

The fingerbone of a man 
lay next to the handle of a frying pan 
and the footbone of a horse. 
" Clean, we are clean," the winds whimper on a noisy 

night. 

Into the night the overland passenger train. 
And the engineer with an eye for signal lights. 
And the porters making up berths for passengers, 
And the boys in the diner locking the ice-box — 
And six men with cigars in the buffet car mention 
" civilization," " history," " God." 

Into the blanket of night goes the overland train, 
Into the black of the night the processions march. 

The ghost of a pony goes by, 

A hat tied to the saddle. 

The wagon tongue of a prairie schooner 

And the handle of a Forty-niner's pickax 



Slabs of the Sunburnt West 69 

Do a shiver dance in the desert dust, 
In the coyote gray of the alkali dust. 
And — six men with cigars in the buffet car mention 
" civilization," " history," " God." 

Sleep, O wonderful hungry people. 
Take a shut-eye, take a long old snooze, 

and be good to yourselves; 
Into the night the overland passenger train 
And the sleepers cleared for a morning sun 

and the Grand Canyon of Arizona. 



2 

A bluejay blue 

and a gray mouse gray 

ran up the canyon walls. 

A rider came to the rim 

Of a slash and a gap of desert dirt — 

A long-legged long-headed rider 

On a blunt and a blurry jackass — 

Riding and asking, " How come? How come? " 

And the long-legged long-headed rider said: 

" Between two ears of a blurry jackass 

I see ten miles of auburn, gold and purple — 

I see doors open over doorsills 

And always another door and a doorsill. 

Cheat my eyes, fill me with the float 

Of your dream, you auburn, gold, and purple. 



70 Slabs of the Sunburnt West 

Cheat me, blow me off my pins onto footless fioors. 

Let me put footsteps in an airpath. 

Cheat me with footprints on auburn, gold, purple 

Out to the last violet shimmer of the float 

Of the dream — and I will come straddling a jackass, 

Singing a song and letting out hallelujahs 

To the door sill of the last footprint." 

And the man took a stub lead pencil 
And made a long memo in shorthand 
On the two blurry jackass ears: — 

" God sits with long whiskers in the sky." 
I said it when I was a boy. 
I said it because long-whiskered men 
Put it in my head to say it. 

They lied . . . about you . . . God . . . 

They lied. . . . 

The other side of the five doors 

and doorsills put in my house — 

how many hinges, panels, doorknobs, 

how many locks and lintels, 

put on the doors and doorsills 

winding and wild between 

the first and the last doorsill of all? 

*' Out of the footprints on ten miles 

of auburn, gold and purple — an old song comes: 

These bones shall rise again. 

Yes, children, these bones shall rise. 



Slabs of the Sunburnt West 71 

" Yonder past my five doors 

are fifty million doors, maybe, 

stars with knobs and locks and lintels, 

stars with riders of rockets, 

stars with swimmers of fire. 

" Cheat my eyes — and I come again — 
straddling a jackass — singing a song — 
letting out hallelujahs. 

" If God is a proud and a cunning Bricklayer, 

Or if God is a King in a white gold Heaven, 

Or if God is a Boss and a Watchman always watching, 

I come riding the old ride of the humiliation, 

Straddling a jackass, singing a song, 

Letting out hallelujahs. 

" Before a ten mile float 
of auburn, gold, and purple, 
footprints on a sunset airpath haze, 

I ask: 
How can I taste with my tongue a tongueless God? 
How can I touch with my fingers a fingerless God? 
How can I hear with my ears an earless God? 
Or smell of a God gone noseless long ago? 
Or look on a God who never needs eyes for looking? 

" My head is under your foot, God. 
My head is a pan of alkali dust 
your foot kicked loose — your foot of air 
with its steps on the sunset airpath haze. 



72 Slabs of the Sunburnt West 

(A bluejay blue 

and a gray mouse gray 

ran up the canyon walls.) 



" Sitting at the rim of the big gap 

at the high lash of the frozen storm line, 

I ask why I go on five crutches, 

tongues, ears, nostrils — all cripples — 

eyes and nose — both cripples — 

I ask why these five cripples 

limp and squint and gag with me, 

why they say with the oldest frozen faces: 

Man is a poor stick and a sad squirt; 

if he is poor he can't dress up; 

if he dresses up he don't know any place to go. 

" Away and away on some green moon 

a blind blue horse eats white grass 

And the blind blue horse knows more than I do 
because he saw more than I have seen 
and remembered it after he went blind. 

" And away and away on some other green moon 

is a sea-kept child who lacks a nose I got 

and fingers like mine and all I have. 

And yet the sea-kept child knows more than 

I do and sings secrets alien to me as light 

to a nosing mole underground. 

I understand this child as a yellow-belly 

catfish in China understands peach pickers 

at sunrise in September in a Michigan orchard. 



Slabs of the Sunburnt TV est JT, 

" The power and lift of the sea 

and the flame of the old earth fires under, 

I sift their meanings of sand in my fingers. 

I send out five sleepwalkers to find out who I am, 
my name and number, where I came from, 
and where I am going. 

They go out, look, listen, wonder, and shoot a fire-white 
rocket across the night sky; the shot and the flare 
of the rocket dies to a whisper; and the night is the 
same as it always was. 

They come back, my five sleepwalkers; they have an 
answer for me, they say; they tell me: Wait — the 
password all of them heard when the fire-white rocket 
shot across the sky and died to a whisper, the pass- 
word is: Wait. 

" I sit with five binoculars, amplifiers, spectroscopes 

I sit looking through five windows, listening, tasting, 

smelling, touching. 
I sit counting five million smoke fogs. 
Repeaters, repeaters, come back to my window sflls. 
Some are pigeons coming to coo and coo and clean their 

tail feathers and look wise at me. 
Some are pigeons coming with broken wings to die with 

pain in their eyes on my window sills. 

" I walk the high lash of the frozen storm line ; 
I sit down with my feet in a ten-mile gravel pit. 
Here I ask why I am a bag of sea-water fastened 
to a frame of bones put walking on land — here I 
look at crawlers, crimson, spiders spotted with 



74 Slabs of the Sunburnt West 

purple spots on their heads, flinging silver nets, 
two, four, six, against the sun. 
Here I look two miles down to the ditch of the sea 
and pick a winding ribbon, a river eater, a water 
grinder; it is a runner sent to run by a stop-watch, 
it is a wrecker on a rush job." 



(A bluejay blue 

and a gray mouse gray 

ran up the canyon walls.) 

Battering rams, blind mules, mounted policemen, 
trucks hauling caverns of granite, elephants 
grappling gorillas in a death strangle, cathedrals, 
arenas, platforms, somersaults of telescoped rail- 
road train wrecks, exhausted egg heads, piles of 
skulls, mountains of empty sockets, mummies of kings 
and mobs, memories of work gangs and wrecking crews, 
sobs of wind and water storms, all frozen and held 
on paths leading on to spirals of new zigzags — 

An arm-chair for a one-eyed giant; 

two pine trees grow in the left arm of the chair; 

a bluejay comes, sits, goes, comes again; 

a bluejay shoots and twitters . . out and across . . 

tumbled skyscrapers and wrecked battleships, 

walls of crucifixions and wedding breakfasts; 

ruin, ruin — a brute gnashed, dug, kept on — 

kept on and quit: and this is It. 



Slabs of the Sunburnt West 75 

Falling away, the brute is working. 

Sheets of white veils cross a woman's face. 

An eye socket glooms and wonders. 

The brute hangs his head and drags on to the job. 

The mother of mist and light and air murmurs: Wait. 

The weavers of light weave best in red, 

better in blue. 
The weavers of shadows weave at sunset; 

the young black-eyed women run, run, run 

to the night star homes; the old women 

sit weaving for the night rain gods, 

the night luck gods. 

Eighteen old giants throw a red gold shadow ball; 
they pass it along; hands go up and stop it; they 
bat up flies and practice ; they begin the game, they 
knock it for home runs and two-baggers ; the pitcher 
put it across in an out- and an in-shoot drop; the 
Devil is the Umpire; God is the Umpire; the game 
is called on account of darkness. 

A bluejay blue 

and a gray mouse gray 

ran up the canyon walls. 



Good night; it is scribbled on the panels 
of the cold grey open desert. 



76 Slabs of the Sunburnt West 

Good night; on the big sky blanket over the 
Santa Fe trail it is woven in the oldest 
Indian blanket songs. 

Buffers of land, breakers of sea, say it and 
say it, over and over, good night, good night. 

Tie your hat to the saddle 
and ride, ride, ride, O Rider. 
Lay your rails and wires 
and ride, ride, ride, Rider. 

The worn tired stars say 

you shall die early and die dirty. 

The clean cold stars say 

you shall die late and die clean. 

The runaway stars say 
you shall never die at all, 
never at all. 



No. J^Zj Sect. V Shelf. 
CONTENTS 



Lincoln National Life Foundation 
Collateral Lincoln Library 



■7 A. 9^0^. 0^4. 00><^'^3l